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Developing an effective IA

In the spirit of Xmas, we're releasing an Advent Calendar of blog posts throughout December:
1 Introduction
2 Content
3 Stakeholders
4 User Research
5 Card Sort
6 Personas
7 IA
8 CDP
9 Erasmus+
10 Erasmus+
11 Eramus+
12 Erasmus+
13 KM
14 Learning
15 Lykio

Developing your IA

Before you even consider developing an IA, you should have completed the following steps before you get started:

  1. Produce a content audit (if your website exists already)
  2. Gained stakeholder insight
  3. Conduct user research, if budget and time allows for it
  4. Draft personas, user journeys, or at the very least user needs analysis

IA development is the stage where you structure your content, functionalities, navigation and search schemes.

When developing your IA it’s important that you consider the different types of users who access your website, and all the information you have gathered previously regarding their behaviours, needs, frustrations and goals.

You should consider the terminology that users will use. You will have a good idea of what this terminology is from the card sort exercise, if you had the chance to conduct this.

Remember to develop your IA from the least experienced users of your website. It should be just as easy for a first-time visitor to find information, as it is for someone who accesses your website frequently.

It’s important to use meaningful titles when structuring your IA, to give users a clue as to what information they will find in each section.

It’s easy to label content groups when you know what’s on each page, but it’s a good idea to always questions your structure from the bottom up. Would you know where to find something if you didn’t know what information was on the page? Would you look for that specific page under the label it’s categorised?

IA Types

There are a number of different types of IA you can use to structure your website.

Visual Hierarchy

Your content is presented in a way in which users can gauge the importance of each element. Users can distinguish the information by physical differences, such as, size, colour, contrast and alignment.

Sequential

Users follow a path, step-by-step, through content to reach their end goal. e.g, making a payment on an e-commerce website, moving from the basket, inputting payment and delivery information to confirmation of purchase.

Matrix

Users determine their own path of navigation. There are often multiple ways to access content, such as, hierarchy, staged, user, task, type, taxonomies, chronological, alphabetical, etc.

Taxonomies

Remember, not everyone thinks like you do! We’d be out of a job if they did! You cannot predict how your users will navigate your site; some may navigate by topic, others by users or content type (news, publications, etc.), and some may even use your site search.

Relevant content must be grouped together appropriately (remember the supermarket example from our first post) and the path to find this content should be logical. If a user can’t find your information easily, they will likely leave your website, and feel very frustrated.

Having taxonomies allows you to relate content to each other, so that users can find the same information, regardless of how they will navigate your site. Content is tagged within the CMS so that it can be pulled into various pages dynamically.

For example, a website might have different types of content; pages, news items, events, publications, etc. When these types of content are tagged, the same information can be pulled into various pages of a website.

We’ll make it a little easier for you… start by choosing your type of IA, then identify your content types (pages, news, events, publications, etc.) You can then think about your taxonomies, some of the most common ones we’ve encountered are

  • Types of users
  • Topics
  • Location
  • Types of content

Wireframing

After you’ve developed your IA, the next step for your project is to develop your wireframes. This is a crucial part of the overall UX design phase and forms the blueprints of your structure.

Wireframes are usually very simple, monochrome illustrations which provide a layout of your basic structure and the connections between different elements, before visual design and content is added. You may have to reign in your designer at this stage!

Wireframes should focus on the structure alone and not include any visuals, to avoid emotional perception when establishing and making any decisions about the structure.

They provide a representation of a user interface, outlining the typographic hierarchy, establishing the interactive elements, planning transitions through content, as well as organising the general layout on a basic, structural level.

After wireframing, your project is ready to move on to the visual design phase…

Now, you have your IA, you can hand over to your designer and let them loose!

What’s next

If you found this blog interesting, stay tuned and we’ll introduce you to a very important document, your Content Delivery Plan.